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  • Steve Matthews

When truth becomes stranger than fiction

A rainy evening in 1960s London, the pavement glistens with the reflection of the lights on Park Lane as Harry Palmer skirts round the back of the Dorchester Hotel. Quickly checking he's not been followed he crosses into Tilney Street, pausing at its corner he waits, collar pulled up against the rain and keeps watch on the lampost opposite.


Well, Len Deighton I aint, but take a walk through that part of Mayfair on a rainy evening and it's easy to imagine Palmer or any of his contemporaries working in their clandestine field. This part of Mayfair, behind the facade of Park Lane is a mixture of residential and commercial streets, never brash and sometimes slightly down at heel, it gives you the feeling of normality but with frissant of there being something more going on than meets the eye.


And that is where truth does become stranger than fiction. The Lampost that Palmer was looking at was used in the 1960s as a KGB dead letter drop. The small metal door could be opened and a message placed inside. A small chalk mark on the post would let the agent know that there was something inside.


The lampost sits on the corner of Audley Square outside No.2. The existence of this dead letter box was only revealed in 1985 when British Intelligence managed to extract one of their assets, Colonel Oleg Gordievsky from under the noses of the KGB in Moscow. A strange coincidence was that back when the letter box was in use, No. 3 Audley Square was used as an office by Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman who were casting the role of James Bond, blissfully unaware of the real-life spies lurking just outside.

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